It was a new start for the Doctor — complete with a new companion. But how did the first episode measure up?
What’s the Doctor up to these days? Lecturing on everything — you know, poetry, physics, same thing — in Bristol. He’s there for a reason; he has promises to keep. He is guarding a mysterious vault. He appears to have been grounded — the Tardis sits in the corner of the office, a neat ‘out of order’ sign hanging from the door. Whether this is self-imposed or not is unclear. He keeps an array of sonic screwdrivers in a pot on his desk, as well as framed pictures of River and Susan. He has become the archetypal eccentric professor, a role that works well for Capaldi, who is at his best when delivering grandiose monologues about the nature of space and time.
“Why do you run like a penguin with its arse on fire?”
And then, in comes Bill. I was worried about Bill — I thought she seemed really irritating in the trailers — but I am happy to take that back now. Bill is awesome. She’s smart, funny and a little cheeky. She asks a lot of questions, sure, but unlike the questions about the Daleks (that scene was thankfully much shorter in the episode than in the ‘introducing’ trailer), those questions are prescient and insightful. It’s a bit of a cliché that the companion asks the questions in order for the Doctor to provide exposition for the audience, but I felt that here, she was showing how smart she is with the questions. She is, after all, a tutee of the Doctor. He took her on when he noted that her face lights up when she doesn’t understand something. There is some real joy in Bill. I approve. So I’m sorry I had reservations, Pearl Mackie.
“You can be very silly sometimes, you know that.”
Another reason that Bill made an excellent impression is that she does something that Nardole is also brilliant at — she cuts through the Doctor’s more pompous moments. Every time he is grandiose, she can bring him back down to earth again. The best companions do that. There is humour here, and an emotional tie. The Doctor has apparently been avoiding emotional attachments — perhaps why he hangs around with Nardole rather than a human companion — but Bill has brought out his paternal side again. His Christmas gift to her — photographs of her mother, courtesy of a quick trip back in time, we assume — shows this kindly and caring side.
He is grieving for River, certainly, but perhaps on some level he is also grieving for Clara. He lost his memories of her in the last series, but his pause when Bill asked how he would feel if someone wiped his memories, complete with the soundtrack’s use of Clara’s theme — perhaps hints that all has not been forgotten.
These relationships were more important to establish than the monster of the week plot, but there were some interesting nods here too. The most effective adversaries in the Whoniverse as ones that make you view the ordinary, everyday world with apprehension. That’s why the Weeping Angels are so scary — you can see them around town. So scary puddles and ominous, running water work well, as does the classic childish game of repeating what the other person is saying, which was reminiscent of “Midnight.” The trips across the world and then the universe to ‘test’ Watery Heather’s chasing skills was also a neat way to show Bill the capabilities of the Tardis. And a quick jump into the middle of a Dalek attack was fun. Yes, the Daleks are sadly ubiquitous, but they were only around for a moment. It turns out we didn’t see a Dalek Girl in the trailer — it was just Watery Heather, picking up some new tricks.
The final escape from Watery Heather was on the cheesy side, but I like a bit of cheese. Never underestimate a crush.
Why the puddle was there, what the point of it was — we don’t know, and we don’t really need to know. The Doctor and Bill learned a lot about each other, and the knowingly named episode laid the groundwork for the rest of the series.
“That’s life, ain’t it? Beauty or chips.” Indeed. All that talk of chips made me think of Rose though…
“Do you know any sci-fi?” Meta.
“Is this a knock-through?” That’s a new one!
“First, you have to imagine a very big box fitting inside a very small box. Then you have to make one. It’s the second part people normally get stuck on.”
“Hardy anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery.”
“A student was sick outside and it registered as a biological attack”. Been there, Nardole. Ah the joys of university.
“Scared is rational.” A new slogan for 2017?
“Let me have some good dreams for once.”
Verdict - a great start to series 10. I still love Nardole, and I’m now officially Team Bill. Also - the Tardis has a macaroon dispenser? I want one!
Next week: the emoji robots.
P.S. Did you see the shot of John Simm as the Master on the ‘Coming Up’ trailer at the end?